Enforcement agencies from around the world have seized illicit medicines worth $10.5m and shut down more than 18,000 websites in a major operation against rogue online pharmacies.
The operation – spearheaded by Interpol, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and enforcement and regulatory authorities – seized 3.75 million units of various illegal medicines, including anticancer drugs, antibiotics and erectile dysfunction pills as well as slimming and food supplements.
Around 80 people have been arrested in the offensive – called Operation Pangea V – which was carried out with the support of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and companies handling online payments, including Visa, MasterCard and PayPal.
In addition to taking down sites, the operation also suspended payment facilities of a number of rogue pharmacies and massively disrupted spam promoting illicit drugs via email or social networking messages.
This is the fifth year running that Interpol and its partners have carried out a major offensive against illegal and counterfeit medicines, with each operation progressively bigger than the last.
Pangea V spanned 100 countries - about 25 per cent more than last year's operation - while the value of goods seized was four times the haul in 2010.
The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that along with UK Border Force officers it had seized 2.3 million unlicensed doses of medicine worth £3.8m ($6.1m). This included 68,000 counterfeit doses.
The MHRA's acting head of enforcement, Nimo Ahmed, said: "We have recovered a range of medicines being supplied without prescriptions and stored in unacceptable conditions by people who are not qualified to dispense medicines."
Meanwhile, the US FDA said it took action against some 4,100 internet pharmacies and seized a number counterfeit and otherwise illegal drugs, including banned medicine domperidone, acne drug isotretinoin, illegal versions of Roche's flu drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and the usual crop of counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs.
Earlier this month, the FDA launched a national campaign called BeSafeRx to educate the American public about the risks of buying prescription medications over the Internet and provide practical tips on avoiding risky drug purchases.